Listen to it by following this link:
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Fascinating radio programme on Radio 4 where we explore findings that show we are made up of 10x more microbial cells than human cells. We are a community of billions of micro-orgamisms. In fact we are more a microbiome than human. The community is constantly exchanging between our environment and other people, in constant interchange. We're not as individual as we think we are, sharing much of our environment internally aswell. Which I find mind-boggling and food for thought. So who am 'I' again?
Listen to it by following this link:
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As we set our good intentions for the new year, it is sometimes helpful to get some inspiration...
The Dalai Lama shared some wonderful advice on how to live in the new millenium, and I love to read them at the start of each year.
Enjoy in a short video or read below!
The Dalai Lama's 18 rules for living
1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don't bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it
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Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist who had a life changing experience: a stroke in the left side of her brain. This offered her the extraordinary experience of analysing the progression of left and right brain function first hand as her left brain function subsided. She describes her intermittent experiences over four hours during the stroke, experiencing moments of pure stillness, fascinating insights and being an energy being connected to the universe. The chatter of the brain turns off as her left brain function is hampered, and she experiences the purity and wholeness of what we really are as her right brain comes to the fore. An interesting and inspiring experience which is worth seeing in her 20 minute TED talk.
Watch the video here >>
The tools and techniques of Yoga could be described as aiming to allow us to quieten our left brain, to bring it under our control by training and discipline, to allow us to experience and tap into the right side of our brain. Being in the present, letting go of the baggage that our years of living have left us with, and becoming fully aware of our sensory experiences, being a witness, completely at peace with ourselves and the world.
She says 'the more time we choose to run the deep inner peace circuitry that is the right brain, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful the world will become.'
Yoga movement and body work, breathing, sensory experience, and meditation are all tools that help us to still the left side of the brain and run our deep inner peace circuitry and find our own freedom.
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Yoga uses the body, breath and mind to help establish stability, health, strength and balance. This can start on the yoga mat, but it's reach goes beyond into life with regular practice. It could be considered a form of meditation in action. A moving meditation as you practice yoga, focusing the mind on the breath and body. If you find a sitting meditation hard, perhaps a moving meditation might be a good starting point.
For an interesting overview on Yoga as a moving meditation, I came across this article which provides a nice overview beyond the bodywork that we often see in yoga classes. Read more... Yoga, a moving meditation?
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Many fitness classes are available just to drop-in whenever you feel like it. So why do we encourage students to take Yoga as a course of classes?
Yoga is of course different from a fitness class, and our aim is to encourage everyone to get the most they can from learning about and practicing Yoga. It's true, you can get some of the benefits from your very first Yoga class, or by turning up every now and again to a class. We are very open to students coming along to classes in that way. Simply by stretching and moving the body, and breathing more deeply, you are starting to energise and open up a bit more. But this is just the very tip of a rather large iceburg, and our aim is to deepen your experience.
One of the aims of Yoga is not only to improve your overall health, but also your wellbeing, and much more besides. This includes physical and mental wellbeing. Yoga is working not only at the physical level, but also on the mind, and many of the practices of Yoga aim to help cultivate clear thinking and a sense of connection to your body, and also aim to open up and release the tension and energy in the body.
By committing to a course of Yoga, you are actually taking the first step towards disciplining your body and mind, agreeing that every week, whether or not you mind or body is saying to you you'll give it a miss this week, you turn up anyway and work on cultivating positive practices. And you'll always be glad you did.
Over the weeks of the course, you'll start to become familiar with the basic, foundation aspects of the postures, and get to know your bodies stiffnesses and weaknesses feeling them gradually improving. You'll also start to learn the more subtle aspects of practice: your ability to gradually control your breathing (in turn starting to control your over-active mind and intensifying what you are able to achieve in each posture), developing your focus and attention during practice, releasing deeply held tension and blocks, and the ability to gradually deepen your weekly experience.
It's true, some of the techniques take years to learn, but each week you gradually take it further, and each term, you'll build on the various layers of practice that will enhance your experience and get the most benefit. I've been practicing Yoga for many years, and I still take regularl classes and always learn something new.
Regular practice also makes practicing Yoga safer. Allowing your body to become familiar and confident with the unusual positions you may find yourself in. By regularly stretching and maintaining health in the muscles, joints you can worry less about if you can get into the postures and start to develop the more subtle aspects of practice.
We're just getting going with the Autumn term where there are many Yoga Courses you can enrol in. Our experienced teachers are passionate about Yoga and all of us have studied the philosophy and methodologies of Yoga in depth over many years giving us the opportunity to carefully structure the classes so that they are appropriate to develop each student. Feel free to get in touch to find out more.
Don't just do Yoga, learn Yoga
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I'm enjoying a good book by Tim Parks at the moment, 'Teach us to sit still: a sceptics guide to health and healing'. It's a brilliantly honest account of a middle-aged academic's journey to overcoming chronic health issues through relaxation and meditation. I highly recommend it, a good read (perhaps skipping the literary references if not your thing) with amazing descriptions of what it is to struggle with the process of meditation. And he really is a sceptic so one I'll be passing it on to a couple of people who might be able to relate!
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Yoga is more popular than ever before but people are noticing (including Radio 4 who broadcast 'Corporate Karma' last week) how some of the traditional values and teachings of yoga are being left behind in its popularity.
When you think of yoga do you immediately think about someone doing something rather bendy that looks impossible to most of us? About the pursuit of physical health? Or do you think about sitting in meditation? About having the stability to sit and connect with something beyond your everyday persona?
Yoga is innovating itself in our modern, Western world. It is becoming accessible to many by appealing to the desire to be fitter and healthier. It is becoming big business for some with brands such as Bikram Yoga and Lulu Lemon making £millions for the shareholders.
But in the quest for popularity and profit, are the compromises ever going to allow yoga's true value to shine through?
Physical pursuits for fitness are everywhere. Even the smallest village has a keep fit class, probably even a yoga class at the village hall once a week. In cities there are numerous yoga centres all offering an array of quick benefits and fitness promises. We are appealing to what people want.
Yoga provides this but it also has far more potential than offering a quick feeling of calm and energy before heading home after a days work. This is just the tip of a rather huge iceburg.
The teachings do make you feel good, we can all experience that, but that isn't by any means it. The teachings are ancient and teach about a path which if followed diligently, with a true guide, can lead to an ultimate reward far beyond any material posession or physical health. Along the way you'll learn about yourself and the world you live in. Some call it a spiritual path, which is a draw to some and offputting to others.
The initial feel-good feeling is the thing that captures most of us, and that keeps us coming back for more. The days I don't practice yoga I wish I had, I'm less comfortable and less settled, and less connected with myself and the people around me.
Some of yoga's teachings (not taught in the majority of classes) can seem somewhat esoteric. You might be sitting and chanting, or humming, or huffing and puffing with your breath. For us rather reserved British this is all perhaps a little uncomfortable until you get used to it. So the physical form is something we can get more readily, and feel okay with, and then perhaps the rest will come once you start to enquire a little more deeply.
I should make it clear that I'm by no means knocking the appeal of the physical fitness and health through yoga, far from it. Although I'm not a supporter of the movement to add yoga as an Olympic sport, competing for who is 'best' at it (which Bikram Choudhury is a keen supporter of) - the physical postures are essential to get many people interested. It is also essential to maintain fitness and health to be strong enough to meditate. But by focusing just on the physical form, it feels a little bit like sitting on a treasure chest full of gold coins, finding a single gold coin and being entirely happy with this, blissfully unaware of the riches right beneath you.
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Worth sharing, the Guardian website has just published their 'How to Meditate' series. They have some step-by-step guides, videos and podcasts designed to support people wanting to meditate. Worth trying if you have wanted to give it a go or tried and found it hard in the past.
On the BBC website there is a news report about the rising levels of stress and the amount of time employees take off work because of it. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11617292
Life has never seemed busier and the holiday season is no exception! Working, commuting, relationships, family, health - they can all be richly rewarding but also take energy and effort and stress can accumlate along the way. Generally we keep going until we reach a point where we collapse in a heap and need to rethink what we are doing. My students often come to me with chronically stiff shoulders, holding their stress in their posture or they talk about having difficulty relaxing or sleeping. And of course they come to yoga to take the time and make the effort to release and relax.
Yoga helps us to take time out to allow the body and mind to relax, helping to release some of the tension that builds up. It gives us time to reset, to reevaluate the stress we take on and to have some perspective on what the causes are. Stress is notoriously tricky to spot early, it can sneak up on you and then spill out over into your life before you really realise you are stressed at all.
Yoga is an obvious choice for relieving stress and tension and the benefits are becoming widely known. It gives us a regular space to help release it and restore our natural balance.
Here is a suggestion to help you release some stress over the holiday period...
- First find a quiet, comfortable place to sit where you won't be disturbed and place a lit candle before you
- Settle into a soft gaze into the heart of the flame
- Try not to hold your gaze too firmly, feel free to blink as you need to and not force it
- Continue gazing into the candle for a few minutes if possible, noticing the variations and gentle movements of the flame
- After a few minutes, gently close your eyes, seeing if you can maintain the image of the candle in your minds eye. Hold the image of the candle for as long as possible. If you lose it, open the eyes and gaze at the candle again and repeat
- Mostly, enjoy the candle meditation and enjoy the calm, still feeling it can leave you with.
Tip - if you find this difficult, some yoga postures beforehand can help settle you before you start.
Our lives are generally noisy and busy, with constant distractions coming from all directions. At work people are often chatting and on the phone, the tapping of keyboard keys, radios and TVs, traffic and so on. Silence is hard to come by except perhaps at night once we go to bed (if we are lucky enough to live somewhere quiet!). People often say they can't hear themselves think. Many people are so un-used to silence that they find it awkward, perhaps even uncomfortable and put background noise on to keep it at bay.
This Wednesday is an international day to celebrate silence. Just this day is trying to remind us that silence is something to be valued and to bring in to our lives more often. The Big Shhhh aims to spread stillness and to unite us.
Why? you may ask, in this age of achievement, what will it get me?
Silence can be a chance to get to know yourself, to listen to yourself, and to allow the mind to reflect without the distraction of noise and without these distractions sapping our energy. It can be a chance to let go of negative distractions and allow happiness to emerge, and to refocus and remain grounded.
But of course, silence isn't necessarily easy, and when starting out, is impossible for some people. Once you stop physically, and listen to yourself, you realise there is a lot going on that you may have either missed before, or even actively avoided if what you find isn't comfortable to you. What might remain if you stop the noise around you? Spending time in silence, once you find yourself able to physically stop, can be a revelation.
Meditation is usually taken in silence, and yoga is usually taken with only the sound of your breathing, movements if practicing asana (postures), and perhaps the sound of the teachers voice if in a group yoga class.
These days some yoga classes even include background music, or uplifting music, to keep the body moving and the mind focused on the practice.
It takes discipline and effort to remain silent, and to remain still. Very difficult for some and something that only regular practice and supportive guidance will help. Silence crosses disciplines and is found at the core of yoga and meditation and also in church and prayer.
Once you are able to find silence, what will you find there? An open question, and only one way to find out...
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